Didn’t Jet Li retire last year? I guess the allure of making mostly grand action movies is just too strong — just like the smell of chocolate is irresistible to a fat person — because he is back and kicking ass in War.
This time, instead of being involved in some obscure Chinese tale (i.e., Fearless and Hero), he’s going head to head with Jason Statham in a basic good guy vs. bad guy thriller. Statham plays Jack Crawford, a gung-ho FBI agent whose area of specialty is infiltrating Asian mafia groups like the Triad and the Yakuza. After a routine raid, his partner, Tom Wynne (Terry Chen) and family are killed by an assassin known only as Rogue (Li) who promptly disappears into the underground before Crawford can catch him. Three years go by with little in the way of leads, but Crawford is still hell bent on exacting revenge. As luck would have it, Rogue suddenly resurfaces in San Francisco, pitting the Chang family (Triads) against the Shiro family (Yakuza) in an attempt to set off a turf war. Crawford sets off to exact revenge for his pain and guilt.
There are several gnawing issues with the movie that stop it from being one of the better actions movies these guys have starred in. First, the movie does not live up to the name War. One of the main side plots of the movie was to incite a major battle between rival gangs. What I saw instead were a few skirmishes, several of which were completely uninspiring (the motorcycle altercation comes to mind). These types of movies require scene after scene of reckless gunfire, hand-to-hand fighting and big explosions spilling over into city streets — fights should not be petty or appear to be an afterthought. Secondly and most confusingly, the writers (Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley) decided to throw some curveballs in the storyline that really didn’t make much sense to me. The story itself was good enough to build an fast-paced movie around, but not nearly good enough to hold the attention of a moviegoer thinking they are sitting down to watch a mindless shoot ’em up flick. Know your audience!
What War does have going for it, is the fact Jet Li and Jason Statham are starring in it. Individually, these guys can carry a movie like this, so putting them together is a no-brainer. Li is a fantastic martial artist and his moves are still a sight to see (even if he is slowing down a bit). Statham is the new badass of the balls-to-the-wall action movie genre (see Crank and Transporter 2) and his star should continue to rise. The fights between these guys are a lot of fun to watch – there just aren’t enough of them. Hell, like I said previously, there aren’t enough fights — period.
I’ve found through life the old axiom, you get what you pay for usually holds true, but in this particular case it doesn’t. War falls short of its promise to deliver a fast and furious experience. While it does have a few remarkable moments, there are far too few to keep this 103 minute feature alive and kicking or interesting. Maybe in the future Li and Statham will be paired in a movie that deserves their presence but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that hope though.